Aerospace medical experts prepared Felix for physical changes in supersonic freefall
"We knew.... no question - he broke the sound barrier." Dr. Jonathan Clark
Unprotected exposure in this area of the stratosphere for a matter of seconds is only survivable with aggressive medical care. While it isn't a complete vacuum, the number of breathable air molecules is so few, you cannot survive without creating a human-friendly pressurized climate.
Until now no medical treatment had been developed to deal with long term exposure to these hostile elements. The Red Bull Stratos Team has created a treatment protocol in case of an emergency. Felix's pressurized capsule and space suit are designed to minimize high altitude risks.
The team is analyzing the recording, including use of an algorithm typically employed by NASA, to precisely determine where the sonic boom occurred. But in the meantime, technical project director Art Thompson confirmed, "Having reached an estimated Mach 1.24, Felix is now definitely the fastest man on earth."
"We think the sonic boom happened not as he went in to the sound barrier but when he slowed back down, said Dr. Jonathan Clark, the mission's medical director and formerly a six-time Space Shuttle Crew Surgeon. "We hear the Shuttle when it comes back through the sound barrier; it makes the same noise. And so although this was quieter, when four teams on the ground in New Mexico, including expert personnel, all heard it, we knew that - no question - he broke the sound barrier."
While Baumgartner himself explained that he didn't feel the shockwave as he passed through the speed of sound, Clark acknowledged that the team experienced some anxious moments, especially when Baumgartner went into a spin - which early analysis suggests lasted some 40 seconds before the 43-year-old managed to straighten out using skills trained over hundreds of simulations. "Felix was maximally prepared to deal with the spin, and he fully understood that the essence of the mission was a flight test program," Clark noted. "We were concerned, but we were all prepared. Felix endured an incredible feat, and the essence of the program was his ability to go through the sound barrier and recover from the spin."
Life support engineer Mike Todd agreed, "Felix started this
program as a BASE jumper and skydiver and ended as a test pilot -
he was the perfect guy for the job."
Clark also remarked, "For somebody to jump from near space and survive the transition through the sound barrier had never been done before, and this has contributed immensely to the survival advancements for future spacecraft. Already a lot of companies are talking about: What did we learn? How soon can we get this information? And so this is going to make a substantial difference. It was a true aviation milestone."
Thompson added, "The fact that it was a flight test program was why we were able to assemble this leading team of experts to develop the mission; it was about science and learning - the process of saving people's lives. We will analyze this data for months, if not years, to come. All of this furthers the future of aerospace - and from the reactions we've been seeing, it has also inspired a lot of young people to think about a career in aerospace or engineering: that's really close to my heart."
Thompson went on, "Our suit and capsule were safety devices that provided full life support of the kind that could be valuable if an aircraft has a breach in its hull. For safety, even our backup systems had backup systems. There is a lot of interest from NASA and the Air Force in the results."
Noting that his parachute system was another important component that would have saved him even in the event of unconsciousness, Baumgartner said, "During the last five years, the team has concentrated on developing equipment and procedures for safety in what is essentially a bailout situation. I am going to stop now with BASE jumping because I have closed that chapter, but at the same time we have opened a new door for the safety of manned flight into space."
The athlete, who the night before had joined the entire mission
team for a two-hour live television special that recapped the
historic achievement, noted that he is preparing to enter a new
phase of his life as a helicopter pilot -- a profession he's
dreamed of since childhood and for which he's already licensed.
"You need challenges, a reason to get up in the morning, and I will
be flying mountain rescues," he commented. "It will be interesting
and I will still be in the air."
Baumgartner is also preparing to take on a previously unforeseen role, as last week United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited him to become a youth ambassador for the organization. "In the next weeks I will process what has happened and work with the United Nations to find out how I can play a role," Baumgartner said. "I would love to have kids of my own someday, but in the meantime it would be wonderful to work with children around the world."
"My advice to Felix as he moves on is to take advantage of this opportunity to be an Ambassador for the UN and encourage the youth of the world," said Col. Joe Kittinger, the mentor who held the records Baumgartner broke in New Mexico. Looking around at a team that besides Clark, Thompson, and Todd also included high performance director Andy Walshe and skydiving consultant Luke Aikins, Kittinger stated, "As for the rest of us, I am sure we will all look for other challenges, but we will never have one as exciting as Red Bull Stratos."